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'Seems Like' '30s Comedy

The 1980 Goldie Hawn film pays homage to the screwball genre.

May 20, 1999|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chapman University concludes its screwball comedy series with two films made decades after the genre's Depression-era heyday.

Last week, filmgoers saw "What's Up, Doc?," Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 comedy starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal.

In the final entry of the series, Chapman presents "Seems Like Old Times," a 1980 comedy written by Neil Simon and starring Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase and Charles Grodin.

"Both of those movies are deliberate homages to the screwball comedy," said series host Ron Thronson, dean of the School of Communication Arts.

Such homages say a lot about the enduring popularity of the classic film genre. But although the golden age of screwball comedy was the '30s and '40s, Thronson said, the genre never really went away.

"I tell my class that the '80s and '90s--especially the '90s--is an era of new screwball comedies that fit the formula; they just don't call them screwball comedies anymore," he said.

"Six Days, Seven Nights," the 1998 film starring Harrison Ford and Anne Heche as "opposites" who find love on a desert island, for example, is similar to the 1941 comedy "The Bride Came C.O.D.," starring James Cagney and Bette Davis, he said.

Thronson has even coined a term: screwball adventure a la "Romancing the Stone."

"While they're not Depression-oriented where they're making fun of the rich, there's still the male and female relationships," he said.

That's not to mention remakes such as Mel Brooks' 1983 version of Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 comedy "To Be or Not to Be."

"Every great screwball comedy has been remade at least once," Thronson said.

In "Seems Like Old Times," Hawn plays a lawyer whose new husband (Grodin) wants to be the next attorney general of California. Any hint of scandal would ruin him. Enter Hawn's former husband (Chase), whose imprisonment in a Mexican jail on phony narcotics charges led to their divorce.

Released from jail, he's kidnapped by two ex-cons who force him to take part in a bank robbery. Now on the lam, he goes to his former wife for help.

"That's the setup, and it goes from there," Thronson said. "Goldie Hawn has been in a lot of modern movies that I'd call screwball comedies--she's just a good comic actress. In this case, she is the person who wants to be normal, and [Chase] is the guy who's a little crazy and off the wall."

* "Seems Like Old Times," which marked the feature film debut of veteran TV director Jay Sandrich, screens at 7 tonight in Chapman University's Argyros Forum, Room 208, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Free. Rated PG. Running time: 121 minutes. (714) 997-6765.

'Bye' to Brazil at UCI Series

"Bye Bye Brazil," a 1980 Brazilian film, is this week's offering from the UC Irvine Film Society.

Directed by Carlos Diegues, one of the founders of Brazilian cinema novo, the film is about a vanishing Brazil: A small carnival troupe touring the interior finds most of its regular stops being encroached on by industrialization. Trekking through big cities, tiny villages, port towns and Amazonian jungles, the members of the four-person traveling tent show discover that even the humblest Brazilian has been jaded by the advent of free entertainment.

* "Bye Bye Brazil" screens at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday in the Crystal Cove auditorium in the Student Center at UCI, near the corner of West Peltason and Pereira drives. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Running time: 110 minutes. Not rated. General admission: $4.50. (949) 824-5588.

Kindness Behind 'King of Masks'

Wang, the old man in Chinese director Wu Tianming's poignant new film, "The King of Masks," is a gifted street performer who excels at the ancient art of face-changing: an intricate play of masks and sleight-of-hand that has been in his family for generations. But without an heir to pass on his unique skills, Wang's art will be lost forever.

The prize-winning film is set in the Sichuan provinces of the 1930s, a rigidly patriarchal society in which girls are second-class citizens frequently sold off by families who can't afford to feed them.

Seeking his heir, Wang (Zhu Xu) buys 7-year-old Doggie (Zhou Ren-ying)--so named because the child is kept on a leash--on the black market. Wang think's he has bought a grandson, but Doggie turns out to be a girl.

The rapport between the old man and the charming young girl is the film's strongest ingredient, according to New York Times critic Janet Maslin.

"The King of Masks," Maslin wrote, "watches them form a close friendship only to be plagued by hardship once an accident destroys Wang's career. The movie is foremost about kindness, and so warm and understated that that's enough."

* "The King of Masks" opens Friday at Edwards Town Center, 3199 Park Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Not rated. Running time: 101 minutes. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. (714) 751-4184.

Quinn Brothers' 'My Father'

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